Historic Lafayette Mansion Undergoes Major Construction

By Domenica Bongiovanni | Journal & Courier

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — The Moses Fowler House is no stranger to renovations. Atop its perch at South and 10th streets, the 19th-century mansion has endured updates and major restorations since it was finished in 1852.

So its current state — surrounded by construction fences and housing kicked-up dust from inside reconfigurations — is nothing new. Its use, however, will be.

The 1852 Foundation, which owns the revered Gothic Revival-style mansion, is fashioning it into a special events venue that will be used regularly as a vibrant part of the community, said executive director Colby Bartlett.

“It’s a beautiful place and needed to live, it needed to have life in the house,” said Matt Jonkman, president of the 1852 Foundation.

“It’s kind of dreary when there’s no life and no people and nothing’s happening there.”

The changes construction-wise are sizable. Crews are adding a full commercial kitchen to the back of the house. Inside, they are repurposing spaces to include areas for beverage support, dry storage and laundry, among others.

Becoming an events venue means the building must comply with state and federal codes and become accessible for those with disabilities, Bartlett said. Along those lines, illuminated exit signs, emergency lighting and a fire detection system have been installed, he said.

Crews reversed the direction the doors swing and installed crash bars. And restrooms will occupy what was the butler’s pantry and kitchen.

The foundation began planning the renovations in January 2016, and it aims to be done in the spring, Bartlett said. It’s working with Ratio Architects in Indianapolis.

Bartlett ballparks the renovation cost at $750,000. The foundation aims to raise $250,000, he said. Jonkman said he will match $2 for every $1 donated up to $500,000. Those interested in giving money can email

[email protected] or mail donations, payable to The 1852 Foundation, to 909 South St., Lafayette, IN 47901. A PayPal button on fowlerhouse.org is coming soon, Bartlett said.

So far, Jonkman said he has invested about $1 million. That includes the $650,000 cost of buying the house, Bartlett said. Jonkman formed the nonprofit foundation that owns the mansion. For the long-term, the plan is for the house to support itself on revenue from events and donations, he said.

“There’s no way to preserve a house that doesn’t have a purpose, and by doing all of this, it gives the house the ability to produce income,” Bartlett said.

Throughout the renovations, the plan is to intrude as little as possible on the mansion’s historic nature.

To that end, the foundation is working with Indiana Landmarks, which holds an easement — a protective tool that ensures the preservation of the property — on the Fowler House, said Tommy Kleckner, the director of the Western Regional Office at Indiana Landmarks.

The Tippecanoe County Historical Association attached the document to the title when it sold the mansion to the 1852 Foundation in 2015, Bartlett said.

“Any time work is undertaken that may affect either the features or character of the exterior, those interior spaces or the larger property, the grounds, Indiana Landmarks has the right to review the proposed work to ensure that it’s being done appropriately,” Kleckner said.

The working relationship between the entities has been an easy one, Bartlett and Kleckner said.

To allow for renovations, a portion of the mansion was left off the easement, Bartlett said. That houses the area that’s being fashioned into restrooms and other necessities for an events venue.

The changes fit in with the decor as best as possible. For example, the crash bars match the dark hues of the wood, and the commercial kitchen’s roof will extend the patio area, Barlett said.

“With the architectural features of those interior spaces — impressive, decorative — you don’t have to add a lot to make it a really wonderful, impressive, unique environment for an event,” Kleckner said.

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